What is a Protestant? By faith alone that is not alone

A few days ago I listened to the “White Horse Inn’s” podcast What does it mean to be a Protestant? where the hosts “walk through the central issues that they believe Protestants need to recover in our time. These issues include the solas of the Reformation, seeing law and gospel as central motifs in Scripture, being both missional and vocational in our outreach, recovering a Word and Sacrament ministry, passing on the faith to each successive generation through catechesis, and finally, holding fast to the truths of the Christian faith as summarized by our church’s confessions.”

A few hours later I was reading Luther’s very enjoyable “Table Talk.” I read the following passage that encapsulates the nub of the White Horse Discussion, which was “grace alone through faith alone” – the clarion call of the Protestant Reformation. Here is Luther:

“The Holy Scripture of itself is certain and true enough; but God grant me the grace that I may catch hold on the right use thereof; for when Satan disputeth with me in this sort, namely, whether God be gracious unto me or no, then I must not meet him with this text: “Whoso loveth God with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his strength, the same shall inherit the kingdom of God” for then the devil presently objecteth, and hitteth me in the teeth, and saith, “Thou hast not loved God with all the heart.” etc. which, indeed, is true. And my own conscience therein witnesseth against me; but at such a time I must arm myself and encounter him with this text. namely; “That Jesus Christ died for me, and through him I have a gracious God and Father; Christ hath made an atonement for me.” As St. Paul saith. “He is of God given unto us for wisdom. for righteousness. for holiness and for redemption.”

In response to Jesus, a teacher of the law says:

Mark 12

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man (teacher of the law) replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”

Not only Jews but many Christians say – it is particularly prevalent among modern Roman Catholics – that these two commandments are the gateway to salvation; to the Kingdom of God. Now, when you think about it a little more, who on earth loves the Lord with all their understanding and strength – and loves their neighbour in a similar way, for that is what “’love your neighbour as yourself” implies? First, it can’t be done, and second, to try and fulfill these two laws may bring you closer to the Kingdom but they can never bring you into the Kingdom. “Not far” (Mark 12:34 above) from the Kingdom is still outside it. On this crucial point, the letters to the Romans and Galatians are clear. (For these Bible references, see “For the Jew who rejects Christ, is there no salvation? What do you think!”

Here is an example of works-based assurance – the writer is advising Christians how to be holy:

“The Holy Scripture of itself is certain and true enough; but we are exhorted earnestly by the apostle Peter to make our “calling and election sure.” The only way to do so is to live to every word of God. Oh, my dear reader, those sweet hopes you have had of reaching heaven and of seeing Jesus and those dear loved ones who have gone before you to that other side will never be realized by you unless you be a diligent doer of the Word of God.” (My italics).

(“How to live a holy life,” Charles Evert Orr).

So, watch it; little rest for you. Majestically terrible. That is not the Christian FAITH, and not the Christian Way, which is:

“Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification (That’s why we say sola fide – by faith alone): yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh in love.”

S Lewis Johnson, “Justification”


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